Pre-Conference Workshops in Bogota, Colombia

Workshops on Higher Education, Knowledge Democracy and Community Engagement for Reconciliation Purposes were held June 5-8, 2017 at the Bogota campus of the Universidad Nacional de Columbia. The workshops were facilitated by Rajesh Tandon and Lesley Wood. A summary of feedback/learning of participants regarding academics’ role in promoting knowledge democracy through PAR is provided below.

Engaging with others to promote democratic knowledge generation

  • Realised that a good understanding of and empathy with participants is necessary before we can form any idea of what KD is and how we need to change our practice.
  • Most academics have to learn how to facilitate the process, it is not something they are familiar with.
  • Deep, critical self-reflection is starting point and needs to continue otherwise we resort to default position of “knower”.
  • Need to start from position of assuming that participants have valuable knowledge and this should be made explicit since not always recognised by participants.
  • The same understanding of ethics cannot be assumed – we need to negotiate what is ethical.
  • Scientific knowledge must be used to serve community needs – even use of word of scientific could be rethought as this immediately places it as “superior”.
  • Process must start with discussion on what KD is in each context, since no one universal definition.
  • Power relations must be explicitly discussed when negotiating process of learning.
  • Negative feelings should also be aired at beginning.
  • Empathy, dialogue, process – all enhanced by being open and creating trusting relationships before move to action.
  • Dissenting voice should be listened to and encouraged.
  • Partnerships should be long term to counteract the transcience of students.
  • Cannot do anything if position community as other – create space for community members to come into classroom, into university to share knowledge. They can share stories of success, resilience to counteract the idea of them as illiterate, helpless, to be pitied.

Value of participatory pedagogies and research designs

  • Use of participatory and visual methods to generate discussion and data forces us to “see” through each other’s eyes.
  • Experiential methods allow us to feel the different levels of power within relationships which in turn increases empathy
  • Experiential and participatory methods prevent us from defaulting to the usual rational, logic we feel safe with
  • Visual methods allows for deeper reflection than just talk.
  • Learning process becomes enjoyable.
  • Complexity of social issues can be represented visually.

Knowledge co-construction

  • Decisions on what is right are only temporary – knowledge must change as circumstances and people change.
  • We need to negotiate what we mean by knowledge democracy in each discipline and context.
  • Partnership between disciplinary and local knowledge – but local knowledge must be understood and recognised as starting point and throughout process.
  • Transdisciplinary work is essential to get more than one viewpoint.
  • To promote KD, we/students should be tasked with explaining how we engaged with and drew on local knowledge in our work – and how local people benefitted from the learning.

How do we move towards true participatory work?

  • Start with self: See selves as people, explore our personal paradigms and biases and understand how they influence us and if they need to change; be humble and open to learning; rethink ourselves. Set a vision for ourselves which aligns with university vision, but helps us to embody the values we profess in our practice. Doing participatory work changes us – become more able to influence change in our own environments.
  • Community engagement: Seek out relationships with communities rather than go in with a problem/question you have. Listen to them and help them to frame their research questions. Develop a discourse that is mutually acceptable and understandable.
  • Curriculum change: Move from teaching to learning; change outcomes to focus on student self-reflection, and authentic collaboration with others.
  • On systemic level: Invite colleagues across university to a discussion and form a group to pursue participatory practice; start interacting with research associations; engage with national dept of education; start to challenge the role of knowledge elite in all forums, starting with own practice. Take risks – take action yourself. Do not hide behind the notion of ‘academic freedom’ – an excuse to remain in ivory tower and irrelevant to community.

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